Will a lack of sleep kill us?

Will a lack of sleep kill us? 150 150 Jane Evans

How many hours sleep do we need to live a healthy and productive life?

Depends on who you ask. Some people swear they do fine on 5 hours and believe sleep is for lazy wimps. Others will say they love to sleep but are rubbish at it. Then there are those who believe they can have a long lie-in and bank the sleep hours for the week ahead.

To be on the safe side…You might prefer to rely on 20 years of research on sleep to bust some of the myths. Instead of settling for feeling lucky if you get a good night’s sleep. Or, you could have a more targetted approach by using some of the sleep science to actually improve the quantity and quality of it for life.

To answer the question on how much…According to the neuroscientist and sleep expert, Professor Walker. We should all aim for 7 to 8 hours natural sleep a night. We should avoid weekend ‘sleep binges’ as they confuse our body and brain. Better to create a regular time to sleep and wake up.

When it comes to staying awake just look around your workplace

·        People bleary-eyed and yawning

·        Coffee cups and energy drinks on desks

·        Vacant stares at screens

·        Packets of painkillers for stress headaches and back pain

·        Sugar-boost foods

·        Forced wide-eyed ‘brightness’

What sleep-related conversations do you hear?

·        I didn’t sleep a wink last night

·        I can’t believe I was awake at 2 a.m. again!

·        It took me ages to fall asleep

·        I can’t wait to catch up on my sleep at the weekend

·        I’d give anything for a good night’s sleep

·        I’ve no idea how I’m going to get through today

·        I slept like a log last night and feel GREAT!

What behaviours are undoubtedly linked to tiredness?

·        Snappy, irritable, over-reactive

·        Forgetfulness

·        Talking incessantly but not listening

·        Impatience

·        Don’t listen properly

·        Shut down

·        Poor concentration

·        Rarely finish tasks

·        Always bringing up problems

·        Negativity

·        Withdrawn

·        Low mood

·        Hyperactive

·        Always suggesting ‘drinks after work’

Are many of us sleepy and stupid?

“In addition to the feeling of sleepiness and changes in brain activity that accompanies a night without sleep, other measures of performance are noticeably altered. Concentration, working memory, mathematical capacity, and logical reasoning are all aspects of cognitive function compromised by sleep deprivation.”

(Harvard Medical School)

It makes sense that a sleepy brain will struggle. This then creates tension and stress as we force our brain and body to perform. Of course, if we could just have a nap this might get us through to home time and even slightly improve our work quality but it’s a poor long-term solution available to few of us.

Rubbish sleep means an accident is waiting to happen!

Accidents, illness, and poor performance are the results of lack of sleep. They have cost, health and safety and productivity implications for a company, and the individuals in it.

I will spare you the statistics on medical accidents and poor practice from lack of sleep. Although, they might serve to sharpen your focus on avoiding medical procedures by getting enough sleep to avoid getting sick!

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents tells us sleep-related crashes have the worst outcomes. After all…You can’t swerve if you are asleep.

“Driver fatigue is a serious problem resulting in many thousands of road accidents each year. It is not possible to calculate the exact number of sleep-related accidents but research shows that driver fatigue may be a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents, and up to one-quarter of fatal and serious accidents.”

Lack of sleep WILL make you sick or dead

In an interview for the Guardian newspaper, Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology, is categorical,

“No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation,”

Even without 20 years of dedicated research by Professor Walker, and others. Logic dictates that if we don’t allow our body and brain to naturally power-down they get worn out, much like any engine or machine. Sleep deprivation and links with diseases we fear most are not common knowledge…

The NHS Live Well advice is pretty clear, to say the least!

“If it continues, lack of sleep can affect your overall health and make you prone to serious medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.”

Lack of quality sleep and dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease was a focus of Walker’s research and he is doing his best to get us all to wake up to the findings!

An alarming article by Business Insider, Australia caught my full attention,

“A study recently published in the journal JAMA Neurology found that adults with healthy memories who had disrupted circadian rhythms – also known as sleep cycles – had protein buildups of a substance called amyloid plaque, which can serve as an early sign of Alzheimer’s.

The damage that causes Alzheimer’s-associated memory loss can begin 15 or 20 years before symptoms of the disease become evident. Other studies have shown that there’s a connection between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s or dementia as well.”

There is also evidence that ongoing poor sleep, shortens our lifespan. Making the idea of not sleeping too much because “you are a long time dead” a bit of an irony to say the least!

Sleep deprivation is expensive!

“Sleep loss costs the UK economy over £30bn a year in lost revenue, or 2% of GDP. I could double the NHS budget if only they would institute policies to mandate or powerfully encourage sleep.”

Having started reading Professor Walker’s book, Why We Sleep, it has confirmed much and taught me even more. It’s increased my focus on spreading the research and plain common sense about the benefits of sleep for all areas of daily life.

I urge all the organizations and individuals I work with, to put sleep high on their daily agenda. It takes time to create new habits for the body and brain. It also requires persistence but it is totally achievable. I know, because I’ve done it very successfully. Being self-employed I can’t risk illness or being off my A-game so sleep is a priority, not a luxury!

Here are a few of the practices I recommend:

Create a routine for yourself and stick to it without obsessing

Be careful about what you keep on saying about your sleep, “I will sleep well tonight” rather than, “I know I’ll be awake half the night again”

  • Try the exercises by Rod Sherwin on YouTube
  • Get off screens an hour before you want to sleep as the light they give off is stimulating to the brain
  • Try to keep all devices out of the bedroom
  • Darkness and coolness aid sleep
  • Regularly apply DoTERRA therapeutic grade essential oils
  • Avoid heavy meals, alcohol and no caffeine (in fizzy drinks too) after 4 p.m.
  • Do some simple stretches, and deep breathing into your stomach before you go up to bed
  • Simple guided meditation relaxes the body (YouTube is full of them)
  • Smile on your way into the bedroom as it switches on ‘rest and digest’ internal system!
Why are we so crap at sleep in the 21st century?

I’ll leave the final word to the leading sleep expert, Matthew Walker.

After all, 20 years of neuroscientific research trumps some stupid old beliefs trotted out by those who choose to see sleep as only for the weak.

“First, we electrified the night,” Walker says. “Light is a profound degrader of our sleep. Second, there is the issue of work: not only the porous borders between when you start and finish, but longer commuter times, too. No one wants to give up time with their family or entertainment, so they give up sleep instead. And anxiety plays a part. We’re a lonelier, more depressed society. Alcohol and caffeine are more widely available. All these are the enemies of sleep.”


Jane Evans

Jane is a ‘learn the hard way’ person. She has learnt from her personal experiences and her direct work with people who have often been in really bad places emotionally, relationally, practically and sometimes professionally.

All stories by: Jane Evans

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